New Brighton demands action to tackle sewage

Weeks before voters go to the polls, a seaside resort is demanding action to help protect swimmers on its shores.

Campaign group Clean Mersey was hoping to launch a bid in May to get bathing water status for New Brighton beach but applications are currently suspended while a review of the regulations around bathing waters take place.

This means for a popular resort like New Brighton, swimmers and other water users might not know how safe the water is for at least another year.

The group is hoping for the issue to be raised in Parliament following the general election, given the Wirral beach’s popularity but businesses in the town also want to see more action, claiming negative headlines about pollution in the Mersey is hurting them.

After reading reports that suggest New Brighton could be one of the worst polluted beaches in the UK, Sean Martin, the chair of New Brighton’s Coastal Community group, has repeatedly written to water company United Utilities’ CEO Louise Beardmore criticising what he said was a lack of action over the issue.

A recent study by Durham University said nitrogen levels in the area were “concerning” and sewage pollutions were increasing “to levels only last seen in the record from the 1980s”.

In response, the company said it was committed to engaging with New Brighton community groups and “concerned to hear that you feel we have been dragging our heels” but added a review is being undertaken to look at taking the issue forward. It has previously been revealed by the LDRS that the company was exploring whether New Brighton could become a pilot project looking at new ways to reduce sewage spills. United Utilities said it shares concerns about river water quality and “are determined to continue to play our part in reducing pollution.”

Mr Martin told the LDRS, “Every time it’s publicised that there is sewage dumped in the area, people are on social media talking about it and say they don’t want to go to New Brighton that weekend because it stinks.”

He thinks water regulators need more powers to tackle the issue, adding, “They obviously do not have any teeth. They do not seem to be able to hold the water companies to account,” adding: “I think make sure that the money that is collected from water rates is spent in the system, not going to shareholder’s pockets. The whole system is wrong.”

Dan Davies, who has helped regenerate part of Victoria Road in the resort said improving water quality needed to be high up on the agenda of the next government, adding, “A unique selling point for us is the coast and the sea and beaches and things like this, it puts people off. It hurts the local tourism offer and it’s a mockery of the good work that has been done so far.”

For many people like Alan McGregor (pictured above) from Saughall Massie who paddleboards in New Brighton with his children, there’s an assumption water at a popular beach like New Brighton will get tested. He was sad and dissapointed to find out this is not the case.

A former worker on the Mersey Docks, Alan said, “It’s got cleaner. I remember it back in the 80s and it was really bad.”

He added, “I think the disappointing thing is they are finally pumping money into New Brighton. I remember coming here as a child and the main attraction is the beach so I am quite surprised, disappointed but surprised.”

Ian Clayton, one of Clean Mersey’s co-founders, called for more resources for the Environment Agency to investigate, adding, “We are all at risk of getting sick when coming into contact with poor water quality.”

Hilary Hart (pictured above), who also co-leads the group, said stopping water getting into drains had to be a priority when it came to new housing developments, adding, “If councils and water companies could coordinate their efforts to keep rainwater out of the sewers it will make a significant difference to our streams and rivers or at least stop things getting worse.”

Clean Mersey has met with Angela Eagle on the issue. Ms Eagle who is running for re-election as the Labour candidate for Wallasey said, “It is genuinely shocking that in the 21st century we are living with beaches flooded with sewage. Coastal communities like our own are living with the consequences of the Tories turning a blind eye to the disgusting neglect of our vital infrastructure.

“Last year saw the largest amount of sewage dumped into our waterways on record – 3.6 million hours nationally. In Wallasey, over 147 days’ worth of raw sewage was dumped into our water in 2022, the equivalent of a continuous flow running for almost 5 months of the year. This is a scandal.”

She said it wasn’t a new issue, adding, “We have a clear plan to end this scandal. We will give Ofwat powers to block the payment of exec’s bonuses until they’ve cleaned up our waterways. Repeat offenders will face criminal charges.

“We would end the current farce of self-monitoring. Instead of companies monitoring themselves independent supervisors will do that job. We will introduce severe and automatic fines that water companies can’t afford to ignore for illegal sewage discharges. Under Labour’s plans, Ofwat could have blocked six out of nine water bosses’ bonuses last year because of severe levels of illegal pollution.”

Running against Ms Eagle are six other candidates. Conservative Robbie Lammas said pointed out the quality of current bathing waters is improving “but we must go further,” adding, “I’m keen to see New Brighton on the next list but we also need to recognise the current definition of bathers is very outdated and does not take into account the wide range of activities in the Mersey and other rivers.

“I’m keen that the current regulations are updated to include not just swimmers but also rowers, kayakers and paddle boarders – giving everyone a say in improving our waters. The dates when bathing waters are monitored also need to be more flexible to reflect the almost all-year round use of bathing waters.

“Better bathing waters also means action on sewage discharges. Under the previous Labour Government just 7% of outlets were independently monitored, meaning many incidents went unreported and those responsible, unpunished. Now, we have 100% monitoring and targets on leaks and pollution and this information is now made public.

“So far, we have introduced unlimited fines for water companies but if a company has committed a serious breach, then executive bonuses should be banned. Those responsible must be held accountable, no matter how high up they are in the water companies.”

Jane Turner, the Green candidate in Wallasey, said, “The amount of sewage entering the waters around Wallasey is disgraceful. I can’t believe that tests show that the water in the Mersey is polluted with sewage as it was in the 1980s.

“United Utilities have started to make the right noises about cleaning up their act but they have an incredibly long way to go to restore faith in their commitment to investing in the necessary maintenance and new infrastructure, rather than just paying their shareholders.”

She added, “The Green Party are calling for the water industry to be brought back into public ownership. That way profits can either be returned to customers as bill reductions or invested in keeping sewage out of our rivers and seas.”

David Burgess-Joyce, a former Conservative councillor, is now standing for Reform UK. He said, “I am a supporter of competition in business, but I have always thought there were some things we use in daily life that should not be in the private sector, and water is very much at the top of that list.

“We can buy our energy from a range of suppliers, but water from only one. This makes the potential for poor standards possible, and I as the Wallasey MP will not stand by whilst raw sewage is pumped into our coastal waters. I will press for prosecutions to ensure compliance and proper investment. We are a modern country and this is nothing short of disgusting.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Vicky Downie said the Liberal Democrats plan to ban bonuses at water companies and replace water regulator Ofwat with a new regulator “that will be much tougher on the water companies,” adding, “As someone that was born in the 1980s I find this a disgrace that the hard work of all those people involved with the Mersey River clean-up project has had all of that hard work eroded in what spans my lifetime.

“Wirral is in a fairly unique position in that it is surrounded by water. The rivers surrounding it are tidal rivers and this posses a number of problems if the sewage levels continue to increase. The residents of Wirral, especially those of Wallasey are going to be directly affected by these rises and it needs some serious attention.”

Phil Bimpson who is running as the candidate for the Workers Party of Britain pointed to reports about high levels of carcinogenic chemicals in the river, adding, “I’m extremely disappointed to discover that our River Mersey and coastal areas are extremely polluted, and I will do everything in my power to find a solution, we need to bring accountability to the companies and individuals who are responsible for this attack on our environment, they will be made to stop and to clean up their sh**e. I’m sorry about my language but I’m angry at this turn of events.”

Ian Pugh who is standing for the Freedom Alliance said, “clean water is a fundamental right” and called for greater powers for Ofwat, stricter regulations, and improving infrastructure. He said they would work with communities, adding, “Freedom Alliance is here to listen, engage, and act for clean water, a protected environment, and healthy communities.”

A spokesperson for United Utilities said, “We understand and share the concern about river water quality and are determined to continue to play our part in reducing pollution. We meet regularly with Clean Mersey to listen to their concerns and answer questions.

“The Mersey has seen a transformation since its low point in the mid-1980s when it was known as the dirtiest river in Europe. United Utilities was a key partner in the 25-year Mersey Basin Campaign leading to the array of aquatic life that’s returned. Forty-five species of fish were found in 2023 by the Mersey Estuary Species Hunt, including rays, scorpion fish, eel species and even the rare bluemouth rockfish.

“The £200m extension to Liverpool wastewater treatment works in 2016 is an example of that continuing investment. We know there is more still to do and we plan to invest a further £166 million to reduce spills from 20 storm overflows in Merseyside, as part of a proposed £13.7 billon investment, which would be the largest upgrade of its kind in a century, across the North West.”

The seven candidates in Wallasey are:

PartyCandidate
Workers Party of BritainPhilip Anthony Bimpson
Reform UKDavid Burgess-Joyce
Liberal DemocratsVicky Downie
LabourAngela Eagle
Conservative and UnionistRobbie Lammas
Freedom AllianceIan Pugh
GreenJane Elizabeth Turner

Lead image: (L-R) Dan Davies, CEO of Rockpoint Leisure, Dave Wilkie from Wilkie Leisure Group which runs Adventure Land, and Sean Martin, chair of the New Brighton Coastal Community Team

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